Stringent social distancing limits announced

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

20/03/2020 4:21:47 PM

All non-essential activities are now subject to a restriction of one person per four sqm, while further travel restrictions have been flagged.

Greg Hunt, Scott Morrison, Brendan Murphy
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been providing regular coronavirus updates.

Updated 6.35 am (AEST) Monday 23 March.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the new measures on Friday 20 March in an effort to flatten the curve, after hundreds of new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the previous 24 hours.
Gatherings in an enclosed space, which had been limited to 100 or fewer, will now require enough space for four square metres to be provided per person.
‘So for example, if you’ve got a room, if you’ve got a premises, if you’ve got a meeting room or something like that, that’s 100 square metres, then you can have 25 people in that room,’ Prime Minister Morrison said.
Beyond that, people are advised to maintain between 1–1.5m of distance between themselves and others where possible to limit contact.
The AMA has also responded to the increasing numbers by urging health departments to prioritise coronavirus testing for frontline healthcare workers, following reports some doctors and nurses have been forced to wait for days.
‘We’ve now made it clear that because of the crucial nature of their role in the frontline response that it’s in everyone’s interest health worker results are expedited,’ AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said.
‘I believe that … is now being heard by everyone and largely agreed to. It is so important because this is a national emergency and we need those workers.’
As the number of confirmed cases continue to grow, Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has attempted to stem the flow from the mainland by shutting the state’s borders for non-residents, effective as of midnight on Friday 20 March.
The heightened risk of coronavirus spreading to already vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities also means access to these areas will be restricted, with exemptions made for medical treatment, mental health and domestic violence support, emergency services and food.
Prime Minister Morrison said that the shutting down of particular cities and towns, which are seeing significant outbreaks, would be a possibility as well.
The announcements follow the Federal Government’s introduced ban on all non-citizens and non-residents from entering the country as of 9.00 pm on Friday 20 March.
There are more than 1350 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, among them a one-year-old baby from Queensland, the youngest person to be infected with the virus in Australia.
The national death toll has risen to seven, the latest fatality an 81-year-old woman from NSW who was a close contact of a confirmed case linked to Ryde Hospital. NSW’s death toll now sits at six, while WA has recorded one fatality.
Meanwhile, an Australian tourist has died in Iceland, shortly after arriving at a healthcare centre exhibiting severe signs of coronavirus. His death is currently under investigation.
Number of confirmed cases by state at the time of publication:

  • New South Wales: 533 (six deaths)
  • Victoria: 296
  • Queensland: 259
  • South Australia: 100
  • Western Australia: 120 (one death)
  • Tasmania: 22
  • Australian Capital Territory: 19
  • Northern Territory: five
The virus has started to spread regionally in Victoria, with the state recording three cases in Greater Geelong, one in the Latrobe Valley and one in Ballarat. Elsewhere, a man aged in his mid-30s who had recently been living overseas has become the first Northern Territory resident to be confirmed with the disease.
However, NSW continues to be the epicentre of the outbreak in Australia, with 382 confirmed cases at the time of publication, of which six are in intensive care. 
These numbers are expected to rise after three passengers on the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which docked in Sydney this week, tested positive for coronavirus. Attempts are being made to contact 2700 passengers who were on board and 1100 crew members.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant has also issued a warning for the 300 people who attended the same church service as four recently diagnosed individuals at the Sydney Church of Christ Ryde Civic Centre on 8 March.
Thirty-five of the confirmed cases in NSW and interstate have all been linked to a wedding that took place in Wollongong on 6 March, including NSW Senator Andrew Bragg and a woman who is 30 weeks pregnant.
Due to the rapid rate at which patients are being diagnosed in NSW, the initial precautionary approach of hospitalising all confirmed cases has been abandoned.
‘Many of our patients are being managed in the community and being managed at home and we are only admitting patients now that require hospital care,’ Dr Chant said.
Despite having recorded an additional 75 confirmed cases in just over 24 hours, Dr Chant said it is ‘reassuring that many of our cases continue to be mild’.
Since coronavirus reached Australia’s shores at the end of January, 85,000 people have been tested for the virus, ‘one of the highest testing rates in the world’ according to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Authorities continue to highlight that overseas travel remains the main source of infection, with three times as many confirmed cases having travelled abroad as opposed to those who have contracted the virus through local transmission. Most travel-related cases in Australia have come from the US.
However, Australian Medical Association (AMA) President, Professor Julian Rait has warned that official numbers are likely not reflective of the true number of coronavirus cases, and says they could represent as little as one third of the total number.
Professor Rait said some cases are potentially not being picked up due to some people’s symptoms being mild.
So far about 20% of cases observed worldwide are said to be severe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and require medical intervention.
Aged care facilities are expected to be extremely vulnerable to the pandemic. To support them, the Federal Government has announced an additional $444.6 million in funding, including $234.9 million in retention bonuses, $78.3 million to support continuity of workforce and $26.9 million to keep facilities financially viable.
Earlier this week the Victorian Government announced $437 million in funding for hospitals, adding 269 extra hospital beds to the state’s health system.
New medical spaces will be opened, including former private hospital Baxter House in Geelong and the old Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, which will open 84 beds. An additional 84 beds will be opened in Bendigo Hospital and the Royal Melbourne Hospital is trying to double its intensive care capacity.
Meanwhile, 163 scientists have signed up to a volunteer database set up by the Australian Society for Microbiology to assist with coronavirus testing in the face of a potential staff-shortage.
As anxiety spreads, Australians have also been cautioned against coronavirus scams. Since January, 94 cases have been reported to the consumer watchdog involving fake cures for coronavirus, sales of non-existent goods, as well as scam emails and texts pretending to be the WHO and the Department of Health.
‘Unfortunately, scammers are using the uncertainty around COVID-19, or coronavirus, to take advantage of people,’ Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chair Delia Rickard said.
*Figures quoted were accurate at the time of publication, and will be updated accordingly.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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